The Śūraṅgama Sūtra, and the Pratyutpanna Samādhi Sūtra, will be the first sūtras to transform and disappear. The twelve divisions of the sūtras soon after, will also disappear, completely and not reappearing, not further seeing their texts’ words.
– Śākyamuni Buddha
(Sūtra In Which The Buddha Speaks Of The Dharma’s Complete End)
In the Sūtra In Which The Buddha Speaks Of The Dharma’s Complete End《佛说法灭尽经》, Śākyamuni Buddha (释迦牟尼佛) taught that ‘when the Dharma is about to end, in this Five Heinous Transgressions (五逆罪) and Five Defilements’ (五浊) Evil Age (恶世), demonic paths will flourish.’「法欲灭时。五逆浊世魔道兴盛。」The Five Heinous Transgressions are killing of Father (杀父), Mother (杀母), Arhat (杀阿罗汉), causing a Buddha to bleed (出佛身血) and breaking up of the Saṃgha (破和合僧), with those who committed them bound for the deepest hell. The Five Defilements are defilements of the kalpa (劫浊), views (见浊), afflictions (烦恼浊), sentient beings (众生浊) and lifespans (命浊). The Evil Age is this period with the Five Defilements gathered.
If there are immeasurable Buddhas (佛陀), Bodhisattvas (菩萨), Pratyekabuddhas (辟支佛) and Arhats (罗汉), who ‘should’ be able to manifest to help ensure the Dharma thrives, how will this world still slip into the Dharma-Ending Age (末法时期)? Let us look into the Sūtra to learn what they will be doing then. When the Dharma-Ending Age deepens, ‘the Dharma will end and disappear. At that time, when ascending, all gods will weep tears’「法将殄没。登尔之时诸天泣泪。」Note : Earthbound (i.e. terrestrial) and visiting heavenly (i.e. celestial) gods who can, will ascend to depart for the heavens, if they cannot bear to see this literally go(o)dforsaken world turning evil, to be with more suffering, in ways they are unable to help or reverse.
「时有菩萨辟支罗汉。众魔驱逐不预众会。」‘At that time, there are Bodhisattvas, Pratyekabuddhas and Arhats, by many demons driven out, to not be able to participate in assemblies and to meet.’ Note : As this Dharma-Ending Age deepens, when demonic forces unite and increase in power, the limited pure ones will not be ‘strong’ enough even to unite, what more to counter them. These evil forces are able to gain in strength due to humans collectively choosing to be more evil. As much as many enlightened ones wish to help, their ability to help us then is limited by our lack of supportive collective positive karma, along with much obstructive collective negative karma, the latter of which conditioned the great growth of evil in this world in the first place. Thus, it is never the fault of the enlightened that we have much evil and suffering here, but our very own fault.
「三乘入山福德之地。恬怕自守以为欣快寿命延长。」‘These Three Vehicles [of Bodhisattvas, Pratyekabuddhas and Arhats] enter mountains’ lands of blessed virtues. Peacefully and simply fending for themselves, with joyful happiness and lifespans lengthened.’ Note : At this point, even these noble ones, who wish to help the rest who are wayward, have to wisely retreat from them, for their own safety. 「诸天卫护月光出世。得相遭值共兴吾道。」‘All gods will protect them, with moon light coming into being, attaining encountering and meeting of one another, together thriving on my path [i.e. the Buddha’s path to Buddhahood]. Note : This community can still practise among themselves to advance on the path to Buddhahood. Note that their members, other than the gods mentioned, are already enlightened to some extent. Perhaps, some unenlightened humans, who are eager to follow them can still do so.
「吾法灭时譬如油灯。临欲灭时光明更盛。于是便灭。吾法灭时亦如灯灭。」‘When my Dharma is ending, like an oil lamp, when approaching being about to be extinguished, has bright light that is even more vigorous, thereupon then extinguishing. My Dharma when ending, is also like the lamp extinguishing.’ Note : We must not mistake occasional or final ‘splutters’ of bright light to mean hope for reversal of the Dharma-Ending Age, which the Buddha did not teach to be reversible. However, we should still do our best to protect the light of the Dharma while we are here, to let it burn as brightly, and for as long as possible. The above community in exile will be this world’s final splutter.
Note : Thus, it is not that the enlightened ones do not wish to maintain the Dharma in this world in the last stretch of the Dharma-Ending Age, but that they are forced to retreat by evil ones beyond redemption in this defiled land (秽土) then. Out of compassion, the enlightened ones will back off, so as to not let them karmically harm themselves by harming the Triple Gem (三宝) of the Buddhas (佛), Dharma (法) and Saṃgha (僧), which will create strong negative karma bound for hell. This is a grave reminder that for the extremely wayward, there is a limit even of the most skilful means, unless they repent (忏悔) with knowledge of their great wrongs. Therefore, we must not take manifestations of the enlightened for granted, lest we eventually become these wayward ones.
Note : In the Śūraṅgama Sūtra’s Section On Clear Instructions For Purity《楞严经》(清净明诲章), which the Buddha taught in the sūtra above, to be the first sūtra to disappear in the Dharma-Ending Age, he already instructed many enlightened ones to help in this age.「敕诸菩萨及阿罗汉，应身生彼末法之中，作种种形，度诸轮转。或作沙门、白衣居士、人王宰官、童男童女，如是乃至淫女寡妇、奸偷屠贩，与其同事，称赞佛乘，令其身心入三摩地。」‘I command all Bodhisattvas and Arhats, to manifest bodies to be born within that Dharma-Ending Age, to become various forms, to deliver all from rebirth. Perhaps becoming Śramaṇas, white-robed laypersons, kings, officials, young males, young females, as such, and even “licentious” women, widows, “outlaws”, “thieves”, “butchers”, “peddlers” [i.e. “traffickers”, who do not truly break precepts], with them working together, praising the Buddha vehicle [to Buddhahood], to enable their bodies and minds to enter samādhi [concentration].’
「终不自言： ’我真菩萨、真阿罗汉，‘ 泄佛密因，轻言未学。唯除命终，阴有遗付。云何是人，惑乱众生，成大妄语？… 如我所说，名为佛说。不如此说，即波旬说。」‘To the end, they do not say, “I am a true Bodhisattva, or a true Arhat,” which is to divulge the Buddha’s secret cause, to carelessly say so to those yet to learn [the Dharma]. Only except when approaching the end of life, secretly as last words, [can they be said]. Why would these persons, confuse and disturb sentient beings, by accomplishing great false speech?… Such as I have spoken, is named Buddhas’ speech. Not such as spoken, is Pāpīyān’s [i.e. Māra: the evil demon king] speech.’
Even as the world will be with many evil ones during the Dharma-Ending Age, the Buddha specially ordered for many skilful manifestations of the enlightened to represent him. The only way to help transform and liberate those still spiritually redeemable then, is to blend in with them discreetly, to teach them the path to Pure Land. If their true identities are leaked before they are ready, there might be disgust and slander, with their manifestations will no longer being skilful. The Buddha also stated that those who ‘carelessly’ claim to be enlightened then are with ‘great false speech’, which will lead to hell. Such liars will become rampant in this age, whose words and deeds are on the same side as Māra. Instead of attracting only with the pure Dharma and moral integrity, they confound and distract others, while seeking personal fame and fortune.
When it is the last period of the Dharma-Ending Age [which is this era], I will specially retain this sūtra, for one hundred [more] years in this world, to receive and guide sentient beings, for rebirth in that [Pure] Land [of Āmítuófó].
– Śākyamuni Buddha
(Immeasurable Life Sūtra)
末法最后一经 | 尽摄偈
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The Sūtra In Which The Buddha Speaks Of The Dharma’s Complete End